The recent initiatives by CBS are a good microcosm of how companies far and wide are struggling to find the right approach to Web 2.0 technology. Or more pointedly, they confirm that nobody knows the right answer, though there are plenty of hints for pundits and futurists to dissect. Unlike the other major networks, CBS is driving an aggressive acquisition strategy designed (apparently) to push its syndicated programming to as many sites as possible. Income will be generated by ad revenue sold around the content. That stands in stark contrast to the approach taken by NBC and News Corp, who are apparently building their own Web-video supersite, which will feature exclusive programming. The CBS approach is nicely described by BusinessWeek media critic Jon Fine as “ubituity trumping pay-per-download.” Will it work? I consider myself an average online user, and it makes sense to me. The only reason I would go to a specific site to view (and pay for) programming in a world of YouTubes and MySpace is if the programming was incredible – a la HBO. Otherwise, why bother? (Bud TV anyone?) But we’ll have to see – there is evidence of success, and failures, on both sides of the equation.
This strategic battle among media giants parallels the conundrum all organizations face in the face of the Web 2.0 revolution. Do you build your own property or do you establish a foothold on existing sites? (This is sort of a digital twist on the “build it and they will come” vs “go to where your customers are” argument?) Do you try to control or limit content or do you open the doors wide and encourage it to spread? How close can you come to traditional marketing in the face of a “no hard sell” attitude of the online community? How much do you involve viewers in the creation or mashing of content? Do you focus on driving brand awareness and positive share of voice or digging for sales leads? And how the heck do measure success in this protean environment?
The answer to these questions – unfortunately or fortunately depending on your threshold for excitement – is that there is no clear answer. Each organization needs to figure out the best approach based on their customer profile, brand image, business priorities and technical sophistication. One thing that is fairly certain, however, is that the old rules of communication no longer apply.